This past year, Dignitas International partnered with the Art and Global Health Center – Africa to produce the MAKE ART/STOP AIDS (MASA) Film project in conjunction with our 10th anniversary. In this blog post, David Young, a member of Dignitas’s Board of Directors, shares about his engagement with this powerful grassroots initiative.
Last winter when I was working with Dignitas International in Malawi, I got involved with a local theatre-based non-governmental organization known the Art and Global Health Center – Africa. I’m a playwright here at home so it was a natural fit. At our first meeting, Galia Boneh and Sharifa Abdulla, the two dynamos who run this organization, showed me an archival video of a community-based theatre piece they had developed. Essentially, these brilliant theatre artists took up residence in a little village for three weeks and made a play about the impact of HIV and AIDS on a family using local stories and local actors. The play was then put on in the schoolyard for an audience of about a thousand people.
At the end of the performance, the cast led a powerful public discussion about the issues raised in the story – the importance of getting tested and being honest about your status, stigma related to HIV, promiscuity inside marriages, male sexuality, etc. – all of the hot buttons were pushed and a conversation that never takes place in this conservative and religious society was on public display with the village elders and chiefs in attendance. At the end of the performance, a medical team from Dignitas International offered moonlight HIV testing at a nearby school.
I was knocked out by what Galia and Sharifa had achieved. At its core, their intervention was all about mobilizing community-level change, which is the missing piece in many HIV treatment models. People don’t change their attitudes about HIV and AIDS because of scientific facts. They change because of how they feel. Scientific facts must become social facts. In this regard, it was clear that collective theatre could be a powerful agent for change.
This wonderful piece of theatre had only been performed once. That was just plain crazy to me. With the help of Tom Gibb, a former BBC correspondent and the dedicated folks at the Dignitas office, we arranged to put the play on again, film it properly and make a movie that could then be screened (with the same medical intervention) in communities across Zomba District.
When I returned to Canada a few months later, two donors generously funded the roll-out of the finished film at five pilot screenings. The film was projected outdoors for huge appreciative audiences who then engaged in a heated public debate about the issues raised in the story. We have now applied for funds to enable a more ambitious screening schedule in the coming year. I want to extend a special thank you to executive producers Marguerite Hoffman and Maxine Granovsky who made the MASA Film pilot project possible. As they say in the business, this movie has legs.
Check out our trailer!